The right seasoning can crown a delicious meal. As leaders, if we want to crown our ability to connect with others we need to add the magic ingredient.
The days of the boss who had all the answers should be wisely left in the last century with Taylor’s Scientific management, which sadly still lingers on like a bad smell. He unknowingly put a massive amount of pressure on generations of managers. We have been left with the legacy of “I’m the boss – I’m supposed to have all the answers – it’s my job! If I admit I haven’t got all the answers then surely that makes me weak.”
Vulnerability isn’t weakness
Vulnerability takes courage. Vulnerability isn’t weakness. Vulnerability involves accepting and owning up to the fact we can’t do it alone. And if you really want to do it on your own then for goodness’ sake don’t be a leader!
Leadership can act in a zone where management cannot. Leadership involves accepting that we don’t have all the answers.
Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about letting it all hang out and tweeting your most intimate personal secrets with the whole wide world. But I am talking about being real. About being willing to admit mistakes, share hopes and fears – and admit that we don’t have all the answers.
Author & researcher Brene Brown says “Vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity” and “There can be zero innovation without vulnerability.” Why? Because vulnerability moves the leader to engage their whole team and organisation, not because it’s the “right thing to do”, but because the leader can’t do it without them. Great leaders know the best source of answers in any business is at the sharp end, not in the ivory towers.
But vulnerability also allows us to relate to people, to connect with people. It is the crowning glory that completes a connection and makes it last.
Rather than describe vulnerability as a concept, let me show you what I mean.
I don’t know about you, but as I read books and (good) blog posts I often find myself putting the author on some sort of pedestal. After all they’re writers and most people who talk about writing do no more than talk about it. The more I read the more pedestals I create, and the more pedestals I create the taller they become, until I am left looking up into the lofty heights of authordom feeling woefully inadequate. And as I attempt to write my book all sorts of thoughts run round my head. What am I doing? Who am I to write a book? I’m not a professor. I’m not a head of state. I’m not a four star general. I don’t even have a PhD. What am I thinking?
But these people are just ordinary people. Ordinary people who also lose their keys, break things, have arguments, spill drinks down their front, take wrong turns, make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. They have likes and dislikes, they have hopes and fears, they have insecurities and soft underbellies. But when we put people up on those pedestals they become unattainable, unreachable and completely unconnectable.
On the face of it I have impeccable credentials. I have a Degree and a Masters Degree, I am a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development. In my profession I couldn’t aspire to any higher accreditation. In fact the standing joke at home is that despite my occasional silliness I have more letters after my name than I actually have in my name. And it’s not just the letters. I know I’m very good at what I do. But underneath I am still thinking “at some point someone will switch on the lights and realise I am just working this out as I go along!”
I have led teams. I have achieved results. I have learned from others. I have made stupid mistakes. I have learned from those too. I’m a real person with experience of what works and what doesn’t – I’m simply bringing it together into one place. And that’s exactly what most authors are. They are normal people with some ideas to share. Some ideas are their own, some they have learned through experience, some they have learned from other people.
We are in the arena together
So what has happened now? A very few of you may have thought “Hmm – this guy clearly doesn’t know what he is talking about” and switched off. But most of you will have thought “I know what you mean! I feel like that sometimes.” And as a result it has become abundantly clear that I’m made of flesh and blood – the same stuff we are all made of. Then turn this into a two-way conversation where you follow with “Well Peter, for me it’s like this…,” sharing what’s going on in your head, and before we know it we are coming alongside each other. There is no pedestal for either of us to stand on. We are in the arena together and we connect.
So it’s time to let the force-field down, to take off the mask and be honest with your team. Because the more perfect you appear to be the greater the distance that separates you – so close the gap by opening up and being honest about what’s going on in your head. You will be surprised at the results.
So stop thinking you have to be perfect. Let some of your imperfections show, connect with your team and learn to rely on them – because you really can’t do it without them.
Author: Peter Anderton
A sought after coach and change agent, Peter has spent many years in Organisational Development, focusing on developing high performance leadership teams, executive coaching, strategy and change. He builds relationships quickly and is as comfortable in the boardroom as he is at ‘grass roots’. Known for his integrity, energy and a real passion for making things happen, he has a uniquely direct yet supportive style that delivers.
Peter is a qualified NLP master practitioner, a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and a Chartered Engineer.